February 11, 2005

Friday Grab Bag

Today's Musical Selection: "American Patrol" by Glenn Miller

Hi, everybody! Today, I return to a long-standing but also long-neglected Friday tradition: the Jumble of Random Crap! Remember those? (And if you're saying, "Well, how's that different from your normal columns?"... well, you really know how to hurt a guy.)

First off, I want to describe the highlights of my day. There were two, which is usually a sign of a good day.

First, in the morning, one of my co-workers brought her children around (apparently the babysitter was sick). She has a 5-year-old boy and a 6-month-old girl. The boy was off doing what little boys do, which is run at several times the speed of light and wreak impossible amounts of havoc, and the baby girls was doing what baby girls do, which is get passed around a circle of cooing women. Said circle had congregated next to my desk, and in time the baby girl was passed into my arms.

When I was younger, I had little use for babies. You can't do much with them, they don't do much that's useful or interesting, all they do is sit around and drool and mess their diapers. And for this, they get a reaction which I'm convinced is hard-wired in females: "Aw, how cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute!" I didn't see much that was cute about these slobbering bundles of joy. I didn't have much use for "cute," period. But I always thought babies were one of life's overrated experiences.

But now I'm older, and my opinions have changed. I paused to consider this baby girl clinging to my chest. Ashley. 6 months old, blond hair, blue eyes. There's something astounding about humanity replicated in miniature. Those tiny fingers, tiny mouths, tiny noses, tiny bodies. They seem almost to small to be real, but they are real, living, breathing humans. It really is miraculous.

Ashley's eyes searched my face. There's an astonishing intelligence in the eyes of even little babies. They may not know exactly what they're looking at, but they're doing their best to take it all in. Ashley must have liked what she saw, because her breathing slowed down and she smiled. She even winked at me. (Yeah, I know, they can't really control the winking at that age, but she winked at me nonetheless.)

I held her head up against my face, inhaling that new-baby smell. While I'd been mugging and vamping at her while others were holding her, now that she was with me, I was calmer. I whispered in her ear. "So, what do you think, sweetheart?" I said. "What's going on?" She looked at me, smiled, cradled her head against my shoulder.

I walked her over to the window, faced her out toward the parking lot. An unremarkable scene to most, but her eyes flashed all over the place trying to take it in. It's all new to her, of course. It's always striking to me to watch a child watch the world. What's old hat to us cynical adults is a kingdom of wonder to a little child. The cars, the asphalt, the blue sky, the trees ruffling in the breeze... it was all exciting for Ashley. I watched her watch the parking lot, felt her breathe, whispered into her ear.

Eventually, reluctantly, I returned her to her mother. Work to be done and all that. But I spent the rest of the day with a warm glow in my heart. The miracle of life is really something up close.

Then this evening, I had an experience that qualifies as one of the perks of being Fan Club president. I attended a sports card show across town. I had been planning to skip it, inasmuch as I'd rather have my rest, but I felt I should put in an appearance. One of the members had indicated she'd be there and wanted to meet me. So I went, and browsed sort of aimlessly around the show, looking for people in Washington hats.

It's been a long time since I went to a card show... I used to go frequently when I was a kid. Back then, it seemed like a key to the kingdom... all these cards and memorabilia, stretched as far as the eye could see. I could imagine Heaven being very much like those shows. Now, though, the glory has worn off. The appeal of crowded tables in spartan exhibition halls just isn't what it used to be.

After a while, I stopped by a table that featured Senators merchandise. I was browsing for a couple minutes when the guy behind the table said, "Hey, you're the Fan Club guy, aren't you? I recognize you from the pictures."

"Oh. Well, yes, I am." I was a little surprised to be recognized this way. I'm not accustomed to being a celebrity. (And pictures? What pictures? This is a little eerie.)

He introduced himself, and we chatted for a couple minutes about the Fan Club and our immediate prospects. Then he pointed at a display containing a biography of Walter Johnson, written by his grandson, Henry Thomas. "Have you read that?"

"I have."

"Well, here's the guy who wrote it." He motioned toward a tall, balding gentleman with a friendly face, who extended a hand and said, "Hi, I'm Hank."

There I was shaking hands with the grandson of Walter Johnson! Suffice to say, I was floored. I managed to return the greeting, and say who I was. Once I mentioned the Fan Club, his eyes lit up. "Really, now? How'd a young fellow like you get into this?" I briefly explained my life as a child of the game, waiting for a home team to root for. "Well, now, that's very exciting!" he said. "And the best part is, we have a team to have a Fan Club for!"

We went on talking. Hank is one of the nicest people I've ever met. He talked and joked with me as though he'd known me all he life. He even offered me some of his chocolate-covered cashews (an offer I gratefully accepted, as I hadn't had dinner). I was impressed by the fact that he seemed to have struck a balance regarding his illustrious heritage: he was respectful and interested in his grandfather's career, but he wasn't the least bit egotistical about it. Collecting baseball memorabilia allowed him to stay close to his grandfather's memory.

He was terrific about the Fan Club. Not only did he agree to carry our membership forms at his booth, he even talked the Fan Club up to his customers! He's also an honest businessman... I decided to buy a '69 All-Star Game commemorative plate from him, and he pointed out a small chip I hadn't even noticed. A prince of a guy.

I asked him how he'd gotten into collecting. He explained that his mother had a friend who was a card collector, before the big collecting boom. Whenever he saw a Walter Johnson card available cheap, he picked it up and gave it to Hank's mother. She kept the cards in a box, and in time she passed them to Hank. He started going through the cards, and he became fascinated by them. From there, he started attending shows on his own and picking up merchandise. Eventually, he'd amassed such a collection that it made sense to get a booth and start buying and selling on his own. "I guess I've got the collector's itch," he said. "I've always collected. Old magazine ads, old comic books, old baseball cards. I like everything old."

"Old buildings, old cars, old baseball cards... they're all special to me. You know why? Because back in the old days, one of the things people cared about was pride in craftsmanship. And one aspect of it was the way things looked! People tookt he time to make things beautiful, put in all kinds of intricate details. Now it's all mass-produced garbage! But back then, people cared about beauty."

He showed me his newest items, shaking a couple of bottle caps out of a plastic sleeve. "See these? Now, I'm the one who takes care of the business for my grandfather's estate, licensing and all that. And some beer company sent me proofs of this design they wanted to do, putting my grandfather on the caps of their bottles! I looked it over and I said all right, but then I didn't hear anything back from them. Usually, I get free samples once they start making 'em. So I assumed they'd gone out of business. Then one of my friends here at the show comes up to me with these. I said, 'Where'd you get 'em?' He said, 'Some beer company up in Wisconsin is making them.' So this reminds me that I've got to talk to my agent about getting my samples."

The grandson of the greatest right-handed pitcher in history, the keeper of his grandfather's legacy, put the caps back in the sleeve. "This world is something, isn't it?" Isn't it, though.

I was delighted to discover that Hank was such a friendly and down-to-earth guy. So much so that it didn't really hit me until I got in the car. "Oh my God, I shared chocolate-covered cashews with Walter Johnson's grandson!" A nice end to the day.

Now, onto some comments garnered by my recent work. First, some comments on the mailbag. (Comments on comments? How very meta.) Loyal reader Tripp wants to help me succeed with women:

About this question:

Seriously. If I could be as charming to women my own age as to little girls and old ladies, I'd be rolling in clover.

You can.

I recall years ago talking to a shrink friend of mine (theatre sure does bring strange acquantances). I told him married women must be different from single women, because I could talk easily with married women, and not with single women. Being the good shrink he was, he said "Maybe the difference is in how you behave."

I also recall dealing with my late elderly grandmother. She had Alzheimers and no longer knew me. I wanted to be nice to her. I found if I put a smile on my face she'd usually respond nicely. It was as simple as that!

Among other things, I'm an actor. An outside-in actor. That means fake it to make it. Do it even if you don't feel it.

First step to being charming - smile. Simple as that. Not some big goofy grin, just a small pleasant expression.

You know how you behave with your waitress? Do that more. Stand tall. Try it during the day and see what you get.

Regarding funny faces - did you ever read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton? It's a great book, but probably before your time. He was a pro ballplayer, and one of the tips he learned in the pro's was this: If you see an attractive girl in the stands, catch her eye and stick your tongue out at her. If she laughs, you have a chance.

At the right time and place sticking your tongue out can be an excellent form of flirting. It is silly and quick, childish, harmless.

So, my man, you've got your homework.

Walk tall, smile, and find some time in the next week where you can stick your tongue out at some lass.

Since I am totally living vicariously through you, I expect big things Grasshopper!

Before I address the meat of Tripp's comments, let me say: Have I read "Ball Four"? Hell, yes, I've read "Ball Four!" If I've read it once, I've read it twenty times. It's one of my favorite books. I can quote all of Joe Schultz's best lines (not in polite company, though). So I'm familiar with the practice of "shooting stingers," which is what they call it in the book. I can't say that I've ever found myself in a situation where sticking my tongue out at a woman seemed like a proper flirting move, but perhaps I simply lack imagination.

As to the rest of your advice, I'll give it a try. I'll admit that "fake it to make it" has never been a mantra of mine, but it sounds like it could be helpful, so I'll try it. I will say, however, that if you're living vicariously through me, I'm sorry for you.

Newly loyal reader Brett also weighed in with another unabashedly nice commentm which I will again post shamelessly:

I have been busy for the past few days, and managed to sneak some time today to see if you've updated. To my surprise, I had not one, but two new posts to read.

The first, featuring "Uncle Millie" and "Aunt Beatrice", was very nice. Quite funny, and some good advice at the same time, I hope to hear more from these two.

The second was my favorite, however. Not only the fact that you acknowledged me (as nice as that was), more that you take the time out of your obviously busy day to respond to those that read you. And also to learn that you're much younger than I thought was nice. I have the same problem of getting mistaken for being older. I'm still only sixteen, and I hope to be able to write like you by time I'm your age.

On the topic of the 'mini-crushes', I still think of that post quite often. I've never really taken the time to appreciate them, as I have recently, and it's a great way to brighten up your day and put a smile on your face.

Thank you very much for the kind words, Brett. And you'll find as you settle in here that I do take my commitment to post reader comments and respond to them very seriously. If it weren't for you guys, I'd just be sitting here talking to myself, and I do that enough as it is. Seriously, I value my interaction with the readers. I believe my best posts are the ones that spark conversation. I have as much to learn from you as you do from me.

I'm flattered that you hope to write like me. I've refrained from posting a "tips for writers" guide on here, inasmuch as I didn't think I wrote well enough to merit authoring such a thing, but I just might do it in the near future. I believe you can write like me by the time you're my age, with enough dedication. I'll share my thoughts at greater length in the future.

I'm really glad that my post on mini-crushes helped open your eyes to those experiences. We miss out on too many of life's simple joys, I think, because we're too busy or too inattentive or simply don't value them highly enough. If I've contributed in any way to improving the quality of your days, then I've done my job.

My post on my near-death experience drew a couple comments. First, from loyal reader Frinklin:

You may be the only person I've ever known (well, you know what I mean) that would, in the face of possible impending doom, worry about a fan club and an anonymous waitress.

You know, Frinklin, you're probably right about that. At least in the specifics. But I'd bet that, in similar situations, other people might have similarly random-seeming thoughts. I'll bet that, in a similar situation, you'd be surprised at the things that would cross your mind. Of course, you personally would probably think about your wife, which is not a concern for me.

When faced with a situation of extreme danger, the mind naturally starts concocting escape plans (the "fight or flight" response they made so much of in health class). But what if there's nowhere to escape to? Where does your mind go? We might like to think we'd have a nice logical progression of thoughts, but logic tends to break down in extremis, no? I certainly hope you never find yourself in a situation where your life is in peril. But if you ever are, assuming you survive, I hope you'll report back to me what you were thinking about.

Newly loyal reader (and very prolific commenter) Brett had this to say:

Those are some interesting things to be thinking about when faced with the possibility of death. Although I have to admit that I think some of the same things on occasion.

I have just moved from a town I was only in for about a year. I left some friends behind, and often times wonder if they were too terribly upset about my leaving. Or I think of those people in my class that I only talked to once or twice. Did they miss me? Do they even notice I left?

I've also been in a potentialy dangerous situation and subconsciously hoped for the worst. It is just like you said, too. Hopeing for a chance to start over, not just...end.

Glad to hear you escaped the situation without any injury. And glad to hear the fan club is getting along so well. Maybe after time you won't be a one man show, and can spend more time at that resteraunt of yours. I'm anxious to hear what comes of you and that waitress.

I think, at some level, we all wonder how much people miss us when we're gone, either from the area or from this mortal plane. Ever played the game of wondering who'd show up at your funeral? I think we all want to know just how deeply we impact the people around us. We can't bear to think that, if the earth swallowed us whole tomorrow, that everyone would carry on and not be terribly affected. And yet, I think it's healthy to realize that the world will go on without you. Once you realize that your dying isn't going to cause the world to spin off its axis, it encourages you to go on living even when you don't particularly feel like it. Don't let yourself fall into thinking that "Everyone will realize how much they needed me after I'm gone." Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Is it really worth your life to find out? (Not that you'd be around to see if you were right anyway.)

Everyone wants to know what happens with me and the waitress, huh? Well, I promise I'll keep you posted, either way. Now I feel like I have to do something, since you're all watching me. (Is that, subconsciously, the reason I brought it up? Perhaps.) Anyhow, stay tuned for further details. (And feel free to weigh in with advice, if that's your pleasure.)

At any rate, another week draws to a close, and I must away. See you next week!

Posted by Fred at February 11, 2005 11:51 PM

Regarding the Nats and privileges. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/12/opinion/12brooks.html (for some reason the comment feature won't let me use HTML)

Near-death experiences are good for concentrating the mind. You figure out who and what is important, as well as what your regrets might be. The whole "did I say 'I love you'" is cheesy and cliched but nonetheless a real concern.

Posted by: PG at February 12, 2005 12:45 PM

If you have a new-found baby jones, you are welcome to come over and babysit sometime.

Posted by: Carl at February 12, 2005 01:53 PM

Careful about the babies - they get bigger. I know, cause I got four of them (three now teenagers!) myself! Yikes!

And what is this "fake it to make it" has not been a mantra for you? Are you an underachiever? Do you only do things you are 'comfortable' with? Anyone who has ever been good at anything has had to start somewhere, sometime, *before* they were good. I absolutely can't believe you have read "Ball Four" (not more than I have, I bet) and have NOT stuck your tongue out. My God, man, that book was practically a manual. I bet you thought it didn't pertain to you, huh?

You need a mentor. Someone who has a way with the ladies that you would like to have. It's best to have a real-life mentor, but even TV or movie characters can work. Study them. Copy them.

Oh, yeah, I can hear you now "But I wouldn't be being myself." Yes, you would. If you restricted yourself to NEVER changing you'd be walking around like some five year old right now. Instead, while you were growing up, without knowing it, you watched the people around you and modeled their behavior. So why not do that deliberately and for a purpose now? It really is no different than learning a sport or musical instrument. It seems very weird and difficult at the start, but eventually you will get better!

Capre Diem!

Posted by: Tripp at February 15, 2005 12:45 PM
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